For families in 2020, the lack of kid-friendly interactive destinations that can be visited—Museum of Ice Cream, Color Factory, and Sloomoo Institute, to name a few—has meant having less wonder-filled sensory spaces to explore, not to mention leaving a void in the screen-break department. Of course, there’s no way to install a giant pool of sprinkles in your living room, but with kids spending less time hanging out at school or with friends (and with winter now upon us), parents are thinking up new ways to give at-home life some extra magic.
So we went directly to the source and tapped the design pros behind those cool and clever spots for their innovative tips on setting up immersive indoor activities. Whether you’re up for repainting a few walls or only game for a lightbulb change, these ideas will transform your space into parallel universes. Because, as we all know, kids add the most essential element: imagination. Here are some of our favorite transportive tricks.
“Kids have an amazing ability to create entire worlds from nothing,” says Arik Lubkin, senior director of architecture and design at the Museum of Ice Cream (and father to an adventurous toddler). Simply reimagining surfaces around the house, be it a playroom floor or bedroom ceiling, can spark their imagination. “Throw a few pillows on the ground and suddenly it’s on fire and you’re leapfrogging to safety,” he adds of the kid-classic “lava” floor. Further up the game with a bubbling magma soundtrack or the hot-red glow of a C by GE color-changing lightbulb—a super-low-lift addition to any make-believe time.
More ways walls can be turned into interactive surfaces: A well-positioned climbing station (we love the many options at Smart D2 Playrooms) doubles as an escape route from that melting floor, sharks in the ocean, or any other scenario kids dream up. In a dark space, re-create Color Factory’s Night Bright room with a black light and neon-colored objects stuck to a wall. Kelly Eng, the company’s experiential creative director, suggests using anything from neon Post-its or dot stickers to alphabet fridge magnets. “Magnetic paint will make any wall magnet-friendly,” she says. Decals or interactive wallpapers, like in Color Factory’s “Color Me” installation, lets kids’ creativity run wild in a dedicated space. Or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, do as Domino’s executive creative director, Kate Berry, did and let your kids draw directly on the walls.
Exploring color can go beyond markers and paint. Take inspiration from Color Factory’s Houston outpost, home to artist Soo Sunny Park’s iridescent sculpture Unwoven Light, which features thousands of reflective plexiglass pieces. “Without light, there is no color,” explains Eng. “One fun way of exploring this concept is by watching the play between light and reflective materials and how that reveals different colors.” Achieve the same effect at home with the help of holographic window films or homemade suncatchers made from crystals, glass beads, paillettes, mirrors, or iridescent cellophane.
Even without visiting the Color Factory, re-creating its Confetti Accumulation room can bring a smile to anyone’s face, whether they’re 1 year old or 100. The setup may sound messy, but Eng reminds us that the process of creating and gathering the confetti—which can take hours or even days—is half the fun. “Give kids color prompts like a holiday; animal; or favorite book, puzzle, or picture,” she explains. Task them with finding and cutting or tearing pieces of matching confetti out from magazines, newspapers, or package boxes. The party only starts once the collection is big enough.
Activate the Senses
Slime is all the rage these days, and Sloomoo’s cofounder, Karen Robinovitz, has plenty of ideas to take this popular activity to the next level on a birthday or other special occasion. “Create a DIY slime bar by having bases of multiple textures, scents, pigments, and charms,” she says. Make it like a choose-your-own ice cream station (with toppings!), where kids and their friends can build, decorate, mix, and even name their slime. To take the theme one step further, re-create Lake Sloomoo at home with the help of an inflatable pool and butter slime (theirs has 250 gallons). “It feels relaxing and satisfying to walk on, almost like wet sand,” says Robinovitz. “It’s also really meditative for adults.”
Create a World Within a World
Parent pro tip: Containing your experiential activities to a smaller area, like a playhouse floor lined with Astroturf, becomes more manageable than, say, turning a whole room into an alternate universe. Even slimeless, a blow-up pool is a kid-worthy ball pit or pirate ship. Lubkin suggests making a frothing sea out of Bubble Wrap and setting a C by GE bulb to blue to set the mood.
A tent in the middle of the living room is perfect for an evening of cozy stargazing—even if it’s freezing outside when you have to “add in the logistics of getting everyone out of the house and laying on cold hard rocks,” says Lubkin. Instead, he recommends bringing the whole experience indoors with glow-in-the-dark stars or a galaxy projector and a nature soundtrack (plus a warm mug of cocoa). Color Factory’s Spectrum of Stars involves a glowing moon-inspired ball pit surrounded by 10,000 fiber-optic lights (an endeavor that required the help of NASA). But as Eng points out, constellation lamps and decals can also replicate the shimmering nature of a starry night sky. All it takes is a bit of childlike wonder.
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